17th April 2013. Just over 5 months ago. That’s a hell of a long time and that’s how long it’s been since FATP has been here on PWMania.com. There’s a few reasons for that, so I’d better explain before I get to today’s topic.
WrestleMania came and WrestleMania went, and to be honest, I kinda fell out of love with wrestling for a bit. John Cena was the WWE Champion for the umpteenth time, and nothing about WWE, or TNA, excited me. So instead of me sitting down every week and writing/bitching about what I hated in wrestling, I figured I’d just stop. I took a break from it all.
Yes, I missed some great stuff, but at the time, I generally wasn’t bothered. I needed a complete break from WWE, TNA and writing about it. Whether you like reading what I have to say or you don’t, I try to be honest and passionate when I write about wrestling. I wasn’t passionate. To quote Shawn Michaels circa-1997, I lost my smile.
But, over the last few weeks, probably since just before Money in the Bank, I’ve been dipping in and out of Raw. And I’ve got to say that I wasn’t shocked to see who had become WWE’s biggest star. It was the same guy who’s been a stand-out performer for most of the last 2 years or more if we’re all honest – Daniel Bryan.
Let’s get one thing straight right now. You’re an idiot if you think the run Daniel Bryan’s on started during the summer of 2013. That’s just not the case. If you actually bother to take a look back, the groundswell of support for the diminutive bearded fella has been steadily growing since 2010.
I’m not gonna sit here like a typical member of the IWC and say “Oh, well I’ve been a fan of Bryan Danielson since back in his ROH days and I always knew he’d make it”. I haven’t been, and I didn’t. I’ll be honest. When I heard he’d signed for WWE back in 2009 I think it was, I went back and found some of his later work in ROH because people were raving about him, and I liked what I saw.
There was this frenetic, unbelievable pace to his wrestling style and he stood out, but I wasn’t sure if he’d ever get a fair shake of the stick with Vinnie Mac’s global multimedia juggernaut purely because of his size. That’s right. Vince McMahon is, to some extent, a sizeist. Yup. I’m coining that phrase. Feel free to use it.
Why am I calling Vince McMahon a sizeist? Well, it’s because he’s never really treated wrestlers of Bryan’s stature with respect. He completely crapped all over the Light Heavyweight/Cruiserweight Division almost a decade ago, highlighted by the fact that fucking Hornswoggle was the last Cruiserweight Champion. That says it all really.
Some of you out there are probably sitting there saying “but George, what about Rey Mysterio?” That’s a fair point, but let’s be realistic here. Would Rey have gotten a run with the World Heavyweight Championship in 2006 if Eddie Guerrero hadn’t have tragically passed away? I doubt it. Chavo Guerrero, despite being the black hole of charisma, was a great worker, but towards the end of his run with the WWE, he was effectively Vickie Guerrero’s carer for God’s sake.
The point I tried to make in that last paragraph is that there’s more than enough evidence to show that Vince McMahon either doesn’t care, or like, wrestlers of a smaller stature, so when Bryan was signed, there was previous form to show that he’d end up as a joke, or a mid-card talent at best. He might be flyin’ high (and not like Randy Orton or Rob Van Dam at 4:20) right now, but it’s not been an easy road for Bryan to get there. Let’s take a look at what’s happened since he came up to WWE’s main roster shall we?
First off, Bryan gets paired with Miz on the first season of NXT. Why? Instead of taking the usual IWC standpoint and saying “they did it to screw with us”, I’d say the opposite. This is just my opinion, but it was to get fans behind him because at that time, Miz was a terrific, smug, cocky, jackass heel. You also need to remember that Michael Cole buried Bryan on commentary at every opportunity.
By having two jackass heels against him, the chance was there for Bryan to prove everyone wrong and show us just how good he was. And he did. He went up against Chris Jericho in one of the most phenomenal matches in NXT history and showed that he wasn’t just there to match up to the enhancement talent, he could hang with a man who, at the time, was the World Heavyweight Champion.
NXT Season 1 finished and then Bryan, along with the rest of the participants, was called up to the main roster as part of the Nexus. That group’s debut was one of the best Raw moments in history for me. They came out during a main-event between Mr “Ba Bada Ba” himself, John Cena, and CM Punk, and just created havoc. They destroyed the ringside area, took no prisoners, and tore Mr Cena apart. But it was Bryan who hit the headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons. During the Nexus “invasion”, Bryan choked Justin Roberts with his tie and was fired for it.
After his firing, you’d hear WWE fans chanting “Daniel Bryan”, despite the fact he’d only appeared on the main roster (i.e. Raw or SmackDown), once or twice. Were the fans who were chanting his name “smarks”? Maybe. Or maybe it could be that they just liked Daniel Bryan. Over the next few weeks, those chants for Bryan got louder and louder as the Nexus continued to wreak havoc on Raw, to the point where a 7-on-7 tag match was booked for SummerSlam 2010: Team WWE vs Team Nexus. Boy, WWE sure like to put the word “Team” out there on TV don’t they? Maybe that’s what started Teddy Long’s addiction to making tag-team matches? Holla holla playa!
Anyway… Right up until the match took place at SummerSlam, nobody knew who the 7th member of Team WWE would be. Everybody from Team Nexus was in the ring. John Cena, Edge, Chris Jericho, R-Truth, John Morrison and Bret Hart all waited to see who their final team-mate was. So right until the end of the PPV, everyone else had appeared. And the last person to appear on the PPV, despite only being on WWE TV (Raw/SmackDown) once or twice, was Daniel Bryan. Staples Centre exploded when Bryan came out and he stepped his game right up, proving that he could compete with the best.
After making his triumphant return, Bryan went on to feud over the WWE United States Championship with Miz, John Morrison and Ted DiBiase among others, holding the title for several months before losing it to Sheamus a couple of weeks before WrestleMania 27. It was a lengthy title run and even the most ardent Daniel Bryan fan must’ve thought that would be as far as he would reach in the WWE.
A couple of weeks later, it looked like our worst fears were confirmed when Bryan’s US Title match against Sheamus (which had initially been advertised to take place on the PPV), was bumped to the WrestleMania pre-show dark match. It was nice while it lasted right? I figured that was it for Bryan. However, WWE shocked us all…
While the summer of 2011 was rightly dominated by CM Punk’s fantastic rise to the top, another indy star, and internet darling, was given a stunning win in the SmackDown Money in the Bank ladder match.
In a tremendous ladder match, which was way better than the Raw match by the way, Daniel Bryan captured the briefcase to earn a future shot at the World Heavyweight Championship. You’ve got to remember that, at that point, nobody had cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase and failed to capture the relevant championship, so when Bryan got the briefcase, again, it seemed obvious that he’d be the one to get jobbed out and screwed with.
Hell, the way he was booked after winning the briefcase didn’t exactly do anything to allay those fears. He was hardly ever on Raw or SmackDown, often relegated to competing on WWE’s jobber-heavy show Superstars, and on those rare occasions when he was on Raw/SmackDown, he was jobbed out anyway!
After a few months of doing jack shit, Bryan eventually successfully cashed in his MiTB briefcase on Big Show to become the World Heavyweight Champion at TLC in 2011. I was speechless. Despite clearly being head and shoulders above 95% of the roster in terms of wrestling ability, I never thought Bryan would get the chance to become champion, never mind actually hold the belt, and I couldn’t quite enjoy it. It seemed too good to be true. Bryan successfully defended the title against Big Show and Mark Henry at the start of 2012, and turned heel.
Elimination Chamber came, and to be honest, that’s where I thought it would end. He could’ve lost the belt without being pinned and the other guys in the match, except maybe Santino Marella, were more what the WWE looks for in their champions, so I figured that’s where Bryan’s story would end. He’d had a token title run and would probably end up being back on Superstars. And to be fair, when it got down to Santino Marella and Daniel Bryan as the last 2 in the Chamber, I still wasn’t convinced that Bryan would win.
If anyone reading this didn’t legitimately think that Santino was winning after he hit the Cobra, then you’re a liar. Listen to the crowd pop for that. It was insane and Santino got a long 2-count from it. It would’ve been the ultimate humiliation for Bryan to lose the World Heavyweight Championship to a comedy character like Santino.
Thankfully, Bryan kicked out and went on to win the match, but again, we couldn’t really enjoy it because we knew it would come to an end in some shitty way, shape or form. However, the groundswell of support for Bryan was gradually getting bigger. He’d gotten over with the crowd as a heel and his promo skills, while not at the level of a Punk or Jericho, were coming along nicely.
And we were right. Along came WrestleMania 28 in Miami. South Beach was bringin’ the heat. Uh… Yeah… Miami!
Sheamus had won the Rumble and chose to face Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship. Basically a re-match from the last WrestleMania, but this time, they made it to the PPV and there was a different title on the line. Virtually nobody in the crowd thought that the match would go the way it did. We all know the story now though.
The ref rings the bell, Bryan gets a kiss from AJ, turns around into a Brogue Kick and it was game over after 18 seconds. What we all feared, had actually happened. Daniel Bryan had been humiliated by the WWE on the grandest stage of them all. You’ve gotta give them credit. When they screw someone, they really screw them. Or so the WWE thought…
That 18 second match kicked off one of the biggest phenomenons, and catchphrases, in recent WWE history. A simple three letter word. YES! YES! YES! YES! In trying to fuck Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, all WWE did was (inadvertently) push him on to the next level.
The next night on Raw, the crowd were solidly behind Daniel Bryan, even though he was still essentially a heel and that’s when he “came to the fore” for those who were looking for a shiny new bandwagon to jump on. The smart-ass writers/opinionists/analysts out there will put that reaction down to “smarks”, but come on… Are you telling me there were 15,000 “smarks” in that crowd? I doubt it!
Since that moment in early April of 2012, Daniel Bryan has never looked back.
He outwrestled Sheamus in an excellent 2/3 falls match at Extreme Rules 2012, before tearing the house down all over the US/Canada with CM Punk in their feud over the WWE Championship. And then again, WWE tried to screw with us. They couldn’t have 2 “indy guys” or “internet darlings” wrestling for the so-called “most prestigious” championship in wrestling could they? So they inserted Kane into the mix to fuck with us all. And it still didn’t work. All it did was show people that Kane could hang in the main-event with 2 completely different workers like Punk and Bryan.
While John Cena was stinking the house out with main-events against Big Show and John Laurinaitis, and Randy Orton was sitting on his ass in the house serving a 60-day suspension for violating WWE’s Wellness Policy, the indy guys were having 5* matches. Vince must have been livid.
Summer came and so did the creation of the most entertaining TV we’d seen on Raw in years. Daniel Bryan and Kane as Team (there’s that word again!) Hell No. Backstage skits, entertaining matches and more importantly, they were a team that the fans actually gave more than two shits about. They were ridiculously over. Bryan had breathed new life into Kane, who’d become a bit stale to be honest, and both guys thrived in that role. WWE knew they had a good thing and, in fairness, they milked that particular cow for all it was worth.
When WWE were struggling for main-eventers because of injuries to Punk and Cena, Bryan and Kane ended up higher up the card and when The Shield debuted at Survivor Series, Bryan found his perfect opponents. For most of the last 12 months, Daniel Bryan has worked extensively with The Shield, whether it’s in 6-man tag-matches, singles matches or handicap matches. And the ridiculous thing about that is that the fans aren’t getting bored of it. And why should they be? The styles of Bryan and the various members of The Shield complement each other so well, and it’s entertaining every time you see it.
I’d argue that, for most of the last year, Daniel Bryan has had more consistently great matches than anyone else in WWE/TNA. I’m talking upwards of 4*’s. He’s an incredible performer, entertainer and just a great wrestler.
Quick pop quiz for ya. What does the second W in WWE stand for? Yup. WRESTLING. I’ve always been a firm believer in the fact that your champion should be the best wrestler in your company. That’s what the company’s foundations are built upon. Not some jackass with a face that only a mother could love, and who’s done possibly more long-term damage to main-event wrestling than any other performer in history. Hey John Cena! How ya doin?!
Stories of another main-event push for Daniel Bryan ironically began after I fell out of love with wrestling! Despite all the great stuff I was seeing from guys like him and Punk, seeing John Cena atop the pile again made me sick and I gave up.
I remember reading reports at the time that said WWE wanted Bryan to feud with Cena to give Cena an “established legacy” or words of that nature. Pissed off doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I was furious that WWE were willing to sacrifice one of their hottest stars for years to further establish the legacy of a man who’s very music strikes fear into the hearts of every fan of great wrestling.
Despite being up against Mr “Ba Bada Ba”, the groundswell of support for Bryan didn’t dwindle. Far from it. In fact, if anything, it continued to grow. Some of Bryan’s promos leading up to SummerSlam really struck a chord with those wrestling fans who are just sick and tired of “WWE guys” like Cena and Sheamus.
In the 80’s, wrestling fans were drawn to guys like Savage, Steamboat, Flair and Piper because they were great wrestlers who could also entertain. Not great entertainers who could do a powerslam and come up with a hand gesture. It was the same in the 90’s when guys like Michaels, Hart, Bulldog and Austin really stood out on their own. Daniel Bryan, while not at their level yet, falls under the same kind of category.
And you know what the brilliant thing about Bryan’s current position is? The crowd’s reaction to him is completely organic. It’s natural. It hasn’t been forced down our throats by WWE to say “cheer for this guy because we want you to”. The crowd cheer for Daniel Bryan because THEY want to cheer for him. And it’s not just his “catchphrase” for want of a better word. The crowd are chanting his name just as much. That’s a very telling story.
When SummerSlam came around this year, I figured there’d be a screwy finish to the match between Cena and Bryan, and I was right. Bryan won the WWE Championship from Cena with a running knee, but his celebration didn’t last long. Triple Haitch-Ah, the heat-leecher himself, hung around the ring like a one-night stand waiting for you to make her breakfast, and as Randy Orton appeared with his magical lunchbox in hand, Haitch-Ah Pedigree’d Bryan and Orton became the new WWE Champion.
Before everyone starts complaining, I have NO issue with Randy Orton cashing in the briefcase. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to MiTB contracts. The issue I have with it was the predictable nature of the cash-in and the fact that, since then, it’s been all about the game (pun intended).
However, to their credit, the direction that WWE are taking makes sense.
The simultaneous heel turns of Triple Haitch-Ah and Randy Or’in/Ortin/Orten (the McMahon’s can’t say Orton all that well can they?) has, if anything, just added fuel to the fire and got the fans even more behind Daniel Bryan to the stage where, for only the second time in recent memory (the other being CM Punk’s 2011 turn), we have a clear distinction in the lines between good guy/bad guy in a feud over the WWE Championship, and what a difference that makes! There’s no mixed reaction. The crowd isn’t (to use WWE’s favourite word for saying their top babyface isn’t over with 80% of the audience) polarised.
A lot of people are shitting all over the way the last week or so of TV/PPV has gone down, but I don’t understand why. Sure, they’ve screwed Bryan over for the last 5-6 weeks. Sure, I’m as pissed as anyone that Bryan keeps getting shafted. But, when Bryan FINALLY captures that championship and gets a decent run with it, it’ll mean SO much more. The only reason that Bryan is in this situation is because WWE know there’s nothing they can do to make the fans give up on him. So what they’re doing is making us wait for it. They know they have a good thing in Daniel Bryan.
THAT’S why he’s main-eventing Raw and SmackDown every week, and feuding over the WWE Championship. THAT’S why he’s going head-to-head in a storyline that involves the man who’ll likely take over the WWE one day, Triple Haitch-Ah. It’s not to screw with him. It’s to build him as a guy who’ll be main-eventing for years to come, and I for one can’t wait to see Bryan finally standing atop the WWE as its champion.
Make no mistake about it. Daniel Bryan is the number 1 babyface in the company right now. And as I’ve rattled on about for the last 3,500 words or so, it’s not come from out of nowhere. It’s been a gradual build for the last 3.5 years and nobody else deserves to be at the top of the WWE as much as Daniel Bryan does. He’s flyin’ right now. So sit back and enjoy the ride. That’s what I intend to do.
Before I go, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to shamelessly plug a couple of things.
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That’ll wrap things up for now. I’ll be back soon with another FATP. Until then, thanks for reading.